Delinquency is a legal term for criminal behavior carried out by a juvenile. Delinquent behavior is divided into two categories: status offenses and delinquency offenses. Status offenses are those acts which would not be considered offenses if committed by an adult, such as school truancy, running away from home, alcohol possession or use, or curfew violations. Juvenile Delinquency offenses involve destruction or theft of property, commission of violent crimes against persons, illegal weapon possession, or the possession or sale of illegal drugs.
Juvenile court is unique and should not be treated as if it were adult court for young clients. While the substantive criminal law is the same in juvenile and adult court, the procedures and sentencing law are substantially different. The consequences of a misstep by an attorney inexperienced in juvenile matters can be devastating. For example, contrary to what many parents believe, a juvenile conviction is not removed from a child's record when he or she turns 18.
Despite the rehabilitative focus of juvenile court, juvenile convictions are counted as criminal history in future cases. They also remain on state criminal records databases and may affect a young person's ability to enter college, obtain employment, financial aid, a driver's license or join the military. Additionally, juvenile convictions can result in commitment to a juvenile detention facility or institution for periods ranging from days to months and even years. Worse, in some cases, a child may end up being prosecuted in adult court where the punishment is even more severe.
Misdemeanors are more serious than petty offenses, but much less serious than felonies. Misdemeanors typically result in imposition of such punishments as a fine or a jail sentence not exceeding a year. If a jail sentence is imposed, it is served at a local, city or county jail rather than a state or federal prison (penitentiary). In many jurisdictions and in certain types of cases defendants who can't afford an attorney are not entitled to a court-appointed attorney in a misdemeanor case. Unlike felonies, misdemeanors are usually handled by special courts with abbreviated procedures, such as a city court or municipal court.